Attrition: American Volunteers Being Turned Away

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July 14, 2008: The U.S. Army continues to meet its recruiting goals, for the first six months of the year. In fact, so many people were trying to join the reserves, that recruiters were told to slow down its efforts, lest all the positions available be taken before the end of the year. The Army National Guard (which contains most of the army reservists) now has 108 percent of the recruits it was to bring in this fiscal year (which began last October).

The army is still suffering most of the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year over 3,000 soldiers had to be replaced because of combat deaths, or soldiers retired because of wounds, sickness or combat fatigue. Similar losses for the other services totaled less than a thousand troops. All the services have people in the combat zone, but army and marine personnel are doing most of the dangerous jobs. Casualties are way down this year, and that will be reflected in lower recruiting goals for next year. That's because combat losses, even with more fighting in Afghanistan, will be less than half what they were in 2007.

Worsening economic conditions in the United States (unemployment rates are at 5.5 percent, up from 4.6 percent a year ago) makes it easier for recruiters, and has always been the major factor in determining how easy it is to get new recruits. Over the last few years of high economic activity, the military has had to pay out billions of dollars in enlistment bonuses, to attract the people they wanted. While there's been no trouble in getting people for combat jobs, most soldiers (about 85 percent) do "support" jobs, many of them virtually identical to civilian jobs. For these troops, it's more of an economic decision, and the military has to be competitive. The cost of competitiveness does down as the unemployment rate goes up.

 


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